SHAWINIGAN, Que. — This is not a post about debating the appropriateness of a First Nations-themed mascot and sports logo, honestly.
It's either a tribute to Canadian politesse or a commentary on Canadian deference to authority that the Cataractes logo, mascot and the use of the Tomahawk Chop chant after the host team scores have escaped commentary during the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
Shawinigan's human mascot (OHL Images)The Cataractes nickname literally translates to "waterfalls." Yet the Memorial Cup champions' crest is a caricature of an Indian chief and the mascot is named "Thomas Hawk," abbreviated to Tomahawk. The team also sells foam headdresses in its merchandise store and has a human mascot, a native person who wears warpaint, headdress, fringed jersey and leggings. There is also a statue of an Indian in one corner of the arena, although the banners for retired sweaters hide it from the press gallery.
As Terry Jones noted early in the tournament: "Yup. In 2012." And that was about the last time any out-of-town journalist said anything about it for publication. Ask a local citizen about it and they'll simply point out the Cats' logo is similar to a city emblem used in Shawinigan, which is not far from the Atimamekw nation. Other questions of how this has gone over, though, tend to draw little answer.
There's no one-size-fits-all answer to a controversy that has raged since the 1960s. Anyone who says has to be an issue in Shawinigan simply because it has been many other corners of North America is being way too literal. Point being, you would think someone would ask why it's gone against the trend here, eh?
Aside from Jones' passing reference and the above video from London, Ont., radio station CJBK 1290, the Knights' flagship station, there hasn't been much on-the-record talk about it. That's not necessarily damning.
Speaking personally, visiting media are guests of a city or an area. Who are they to bring this up, even in a province whose history of French-First Nations relations is, how do you say, not good? (Oka Crisis, anyone?) As well, it seems like it's hard to get much of an answer about it if you're not conversant in French. It just seems strange all this is allowed to slide within a province that employs people to make sure French signage is more prominent than English.
A Cataractes fan accessorizes with a faux foam headdress (OHL Images)There is, again, no 100 per cent correct answer. The National Football League franchise in Washington, D.C., should have changed its nickname long ago. A derogatory term such as Redskins cannot be sanitized into a nickname. But NCAA monikers such as Aztecs (San Diego State University) and Seminoles (Florida State) are in a different vein since they refer to a civilization rather than the warrior stereotypes contained in nicknames such as Braves or Warriors. Those names carry a connotation of being valiant but not very smart, which is a degrading. As well, any rudimentary research would show that was not true. Incidentally, Don Marks' book They Call Me Chief: Warriors On Ice; The Story of Indians In The NHL also has a very persuasive argument that even "Eagles" is an affront.
The choice of the new North American Hockey League franchise in Johnstown, Pa., being dubbed the Johnstown Tomahawks certainly is enough to give one pause, especially since the team's president is a basketball alumnus of the University of North Dakota, which has dug in against NCAA sanctions over its Fighting Sioux nickname. Like really, Johnstown Tomahawks, with an Indian-in-profile insignia against crossed tomahawks with dollops of red, white and blue? That's not going to remind anyone about a genocide.
All that political correctness can go too far. Just last week, the state of Oregon banned Native American mascots, even for an Indian charter school which had chosen to use one. Anyway, it's just worth wondering the reluctance to speak up, present company very included, is an indicator that the pendulum is swinging back. A junior hockey team's priorities aren't the same as a university or high school's, but its fans include a lot of children who at an age where one is beginning to learn how to respect cultures and races other than her or his own.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Contact him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet.